Lowry named new football coach

lthough he understands the pressure of his situation, new football coach Gary Lowry is prepared to deal with any success or failure he finds at the helm of his program.

“At any level, the next person is always looked at under a microscope, but I look forward to the challenge. If we’re good it could be because of coach Johnson, and if we can’t it’s my fault, so it’s a no win for a few years,” Lowry said.

On Feb. 14, GFPS Athletic Director Gary DeGooyer accounced that Lowry would be the successor to Jack Johnson’s role as head coach, a role Johnson held for 41 years.

Lowry has been a part of the CMR coaching staff for 30 years. Previously, he played for Johnson before going on to play for the University of Montana Grizzlies.

While Lowry, a 1980 CMR graduate, has extensive experience with Johnson’s coaching style, he says his style differs in some aspects.

“Everyone is a little different. It’s all of the same messages. I think I’m not a vocal, butt-chewing type. I’m not a screamer, even when I was younger,” Lowry said.

Despite a more reserved approach, Lowry values the traits that Johnson made a staple of the program.

“I expect the players to make good choices on and off the field. In this game you learn a lot of important life lessons that have nothing to do with football. You need to learn to be a good guy on the field, in public, and in the classroom,” he said.

Principal Dick Kloppel, who was in the district when Johnson began coaching, recognizes the impact that he had.

“Before coming to CMR, football was an August to October sport. With him he brought off-season conditioning, the idea of camps, and innovation. He raised the level of athlete performance radically,” Kloppel said. “He took us from lower to middle of the pack team to consecutive champions. He gave us our competitive culture.”

Johnson brought not only innovation, but brought success in terms of 13 state championships.

“What Jack did for CMR football, and in particular our high school, was create and maintain a competitive tradition that caught on for all of our sports. Those rugs in the fieldhouse don’t just happen. Jack was part of building expectations, culture, work ethic, and giving your best. He influenced an awful lot of people through his career,” Kloppel said. “He made CMR synonymous with winning across the state. For a lot of schools, if they beat CMR it had been a good year.”

It was during his time as a teacher at Great Falls High when Kloppel first realized Johnson’s power.

“I remember sitting in the bleachers in 1975 when Great Falls High was an absolute powerhouse, but CMR won the game 11-10. The student body chant that year, and many after, was ’11 to 10, do it again,’” he said.

Johnson himself recognizes the importance of that game.

“I remember that very well, I do. It really got things started for the Rustlers, and we went on to win the championship,” Johnson said.

Although he understands the significance now, it wasn’t immediately apparent.

“I didn’t know at that time, but it led to CMR’s first state championship in my third year. That season we had a strong senior and junior class. It got the tradition started and was a springboard to our second the next year,” Johnson said.

Upon arriving at CMR in 1973, Johnson knew he had found his home.

“I did it for the long haul, not just a springboard to move on. From the time I got here, I knew it was a good school, good administration; it was great,” he said.

Johnson’s proudest moment is the longevity of his success.

“Including before my time at CMR, I won championships in five decades, but I’m most proud that it wasn’t a hit or miss thing. We were consistently a top program,” Johnson said.

Deciding to step away wasn’t an easy one, but Johnson felt that it was time.

“I’m getting a little older, and you know that ‘Father Time’ is undefeated. Coaching takes its toll. We do 90-hour weeks during the season. You work on Sundays and Saturdays so there are no days off, so it really drags on you. I’m still feeling good, so I want to be able to travel with my wife and do some other things while I can,” he said.

Throughout his four decades coaching at CMR, Johnson has few regrets.

“There are always things you would do different looking back. I think the agony of defeat lasts longer than the thrill of victory, so there’s always something different. You could do a better job or make a different call, but I loved every minute of it,” he said.

340 CMR victories, 41 years, and 13 state championships later, all of Johnson’s dreams came true.

“I always wanted to be a coach and nothing else. I never wanted to be a suit, stuck behind a desk.”